Forsythe Company Presents Movement in a Foreign Language

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Willems, N.N.N.N. & Study # 3: The Forsythe Company, Sadler’s Wells, London, 18.6.2013. (JO’D)

Amancio Gonzalez, Cyril Baldy, Fabrice Mazliah, Ander Zabala

Choreography, Stage, Lighting and Costumes: William Forsythe

Study # 3
Yoko Ando, Cyril Baldy, Dana Caspersen, Katja Cheraneva, Frances Chiaverini, Brigel Gjoka, Amancio Gonzalez, Josh Johnson, David Kern, Fabrice Mazliah, Roberta Mosca, Jone San Martin, Nicole Peisl, Yasutake Shimaji, Ildikó Tóth, Riley Watts, Ander Zabala

Choreography: William Forsythe
Music: Thom Willems
Lighting: Ulf Naumann, Tanja Rühl
Sound Design: Dietrich Krüger

For these two works by The Forsythe Company, who are based in Germany,  the stage at Sadler’s Wells has been cleared of everything but its floor. Instead of a backdrop there is the black-painted brick of the building’s end wall. Leaning against it, to one side, are some pieces of scaffolding and some rope. In one corner there is a rack of clothes. N.N.N.N. starts when into this almost non-theatrical cube of space (as the audience is still turning off its mobile phones) a casually dressed dancer walks casually. His sudden and unexpected freeze of position, however, indicates that no movement, casual as it may appear, is going to be taken for granted. The dancer examines one arm. The swinging motion it has just been making interests him. He experiments with the way an arm moves and can be made to move. He begins to discover, or rediscover (for himself and for the audience) this part of the human body.

When this dancer is joined by three others, it is through the movement of an arm, coming to rest on a head or shoulder, that they first make contact. Keeping time through the sound of their breathing (there is no music), the men perform what is, essentially, a twenty-minute ‘study’ in arms. They catch hold of a partner’s as he rotates them. They duck those that are whirling above them like the blades of a helicopter. They use them to perform balletic pirouettes that take advantage of the extended floor of the stage. All four men are often joined in such a way that only by moving each other’s arms, and hands, can they extricate themselves. At times they freeze in their positions as if surprised themselves by the possibilities that arms, their own and those of other people, offer.

Study # 3, which according to the programme, ‘recontextualizes movement sequences…spanning the last 30 years’ uses a greater number of dancers, and dresses them in brighter coloured clothes. It overlaps sequences involving a group of dancers with pas de deux and solos. It is a work of moments, some of them impressive: the dancer who performs a speeded up film version of himself sitting in a chair exactly as it would really look; the dancer who commands the attention of the audience by what she doesn’t do as much as by what she does; the dancer who twines his arms around himself, Nijinsky-like, as he pirouettes. It also contains what I took to be a gentle parody of, but also homage to (across time, across gender) Isadora Duncan. However, for a woman I overheard as I walked away from the theatre, this was simply ‘making fun of a female dancer’.

Study # 3 is like a foreign language of movement that sounds beautiful even as it is difficult to understand. It could, perhaps, be ten minutes or so shorter. The penultimate section, in which the dancers leave the stage slowly and in pairs, seems to offer a natural, lyrical ending. The final sequence, though interesting in itself, does not add anything to this.

John O’Dwyer